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#1
Old 11-30-2004, 12:23 AM
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Uploading your brain (digital consciousness)

Setting aside all of the technological hurdles. Let me make a few assumptions for the sake of the debate.

Human minds are composed of matter that that is governed by certain rules of the way our Universe works.

Human minds are the origin of consciousness

It is theoretically possible to use a machine (computer) to simulate the world


Okay. I've been reading about this from a few webpages that I've encountered through StumbleUpon. One method mentioned would be a robot/machine that would have an aparatus that could interface with the brain. The idea is that this interface would be capable of measuring the activity and structure of a part of your brain. I suppose it would be composed of millions of sensors attached by wires, etc to the robot that would be inserted to determine the makeup of the neurons. Once the makeup and function of a certain layer of neurons could be determined it would then be simulated, and the cells could be destroyed, thus having the part that was destroyed being simulated by the machine and the rest of the brain being intact. This process would continue until the entire brain was simulated. At that point the consciousness could be uploaded into whatever format that you would want.


Okay I realize that the technology is not there, and may not be possible, but the question is, would you do it if it were possible?

For those of us that believe in an afterlife, I suppose the answer would be no, but what about the atheists. I am sort-of agnostic, so I don't know, but I tend to think that I might consider it.

What would it all mean? Would you want to live in an ideal world? Would you want to live an a world that is as close to real-life as possible? These are some questions for thought, but I'll start with my own ideas.

Firstly, I think that if I were to do it, it could either be like paradise for atheists or it could be like a continuation of life as you know it with no ageing or disease. Obviously death would be taken out of the equation because, what would be the point? Murder would obviously be made impossible as would any other activity that would make the point of prolonging life impossible.

If this computer-simulated world were to be made feasable, and a simulation could be made possible that wouldn't cause insanity, I think that there would be big changes in many things. Actually I think any kind of insanity could be cured because it would most likely be possible to fix it with a "patch" or whatever.

How long could this last? And how long would life on these simulated worlds last? I think it could honestly last longer than any human life could last. If the Earth ever comes to a point where all carbon-based life were to perish, all of the people who were uploaded into the system wouldn't perish, becuase there would be little effect on them. They could build robots with the proper tools and use the outside world to provide power and resources in much more extreme climates. Nuclear power or anything else wouldn't be a problem, or maybe other power sources could be found.

But in the end. What would be the point of life? Would we get bored? What would you possibly do with 60,000 years of free time that required no work to do? We would still eat and have sex, but there would be little reason to work, because food would just be a computer simulation, and the only thing that would be needed would be power, which could come from the sun. There would be no work, or construction or anything else that we are familiar with.


Or would there? Would we need to have these things for life to seem normal? Would we need to be reincarned and live lives where we had to work and eventually "die" only to start the process over again? What would happen to culture?

Maybe you could choose different realities? You could choose the Utopian world, or maybe the realistic world, where you have to work and earn your happiness?

It would be interesting, with so much time. Would you like to experience life as a Peruvian farmer? Maybe as a Roman subject? Maybe as a stone-age tribesman? Maybe you'd like to live as an America Indian? If you were to choose, how conscious of your original life would you like to be? It wouldn't be really fun if a bunch of people with western mentalities would like to play "indian" without any kind of ingrained consequences.

Well. This really interests me. I hope you guys have some interesting points to add too.
#2
Old 11-30-2004, 05:38 AM
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Why bother simulating our world? Why not just put yourself into a perm-orgasm state, or something like that?
#3
Old 11-30-2004, 05:59 AM
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There are many issues here: most of the OP seems to be concerned with an IMHO-type question regarding what and where we would choose to exist in a Matrix style simulation (which, incidentally, does not require any "uploading" since input can simply be fed directly into the optic/auditory/tactile nerves, or perhaps even the relevant cortices in the brain.)

As for "uploading your brain", I'm afraid that simply mimicking the charge characteristics of the neuronal synapses will never be enough. The problem here is encryption. The only one who can explain what a particular string of dendrites encodes is the entity comprising that dendrite string. When I form a new memory, I am effectively encrypting that image into an impossibly complex memory bank of trillions of neuronal connections using an unbreakable one-time hash.

Put simply, you are trying to 'upload' the memories from a unique computer which follows no known protocol based solely on the switching activity in the chip, without a monitor. Good luck!
#4
Old 11-30-2004, 06:03 AM
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First off; if you haven't read Permutation City by Greg Egan, you really really should; it is a very nice exploration of exactly these issues (albeit pure fiction).

I'm curious as to why we'd want to destroy each part of the brain after it had been mapped (assuming the mapping was even possible, which I suspect it may never be due to something like the observer effect) - is it the case that you think your actual consciousness would be transferred into the machine this way, as opposed to just making a simple copy(that wouldn't be you), while keeping the original alive? - I don't see the difference.
#5
Old 11-30-2004, 06:10 AM
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Presumably so the functioning brain is forced to use the computer copy to carry out tasks instead of the original section which has been copied.
#6
Old 11-30-2004, 06:16 AM
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Probably also worth reading Learning to be Me, also by Greg Egan.
#7
Old 11-30-2004, 07:27 AM
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Also "Revelation Space" by Alastair Reynolds and it's sequels for another fictional view of downloaded conciousness.

Personally being a humanist and not believing in any form of afterlife I am greatly in favour of having a way of my conciousness live on after my physical demise.

Probably won't happen in my lifetime, but I can hope.
#8
Old 11-30-2004, 07:34 AM
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Must reading on this topic:
The Mind's I, by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett. A collection of essays and short stories by various authors, with commentary.
#9
Old 11-30-2004, 04:47 PM
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Very interesting set of questions, Merkwurdigliebe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Merkwurdigliebe
It is theoretically possible to use a machine (computer) to simulate the world
...
At that point the consciousness could be uploaded into whatever format that you would want.
I think you are dealing with two different things here
1) Simulating the world in a computer.
2) Uploading your consciousness into a computer.

You could have (1) but not (2) if you simulate the world but are hooked into the simulation using your existing meat brain.

You could have (2) but not (1) if you upload your consciousness into a computer and that computer acts like an artificial brain in a robot that exists and functions in the real world.

And, of course, you could have what you seem to be proposing, that is, both (1) and (2).


Quote:
For those of us that believe in an afterlife, I suppose the answer would be no, but what about the atheists. I am sort-of agnostic, so I don't know, but I tend to think that I might consider it.
I would definitely consider it.

Quote:
What would it all mean? Would you want to live in an ideal world? Would you want to live an a world that is as close to real-life as possible?
One thing you don't clarify is whether you would want to be aware that you are living in a simulated world.

If before the simulation starts you are given the option of
a) knowing you are living in a simulation, or
b) forgetting your past and thinking that the simulated world was real,
which would you choose?

Personally, I'd first choose a "short lifetime" of (a), and then a "short lifetime" of (b), and after these two "lives" I would be able to decide how I want to live the rest of my lives.


Quote:
Firstly, I think that if I were to do it, it could either be like paradise for atheists
What do you consider to be "paradise for atheists"?

Quote:
or it could be like a continuation of life as you know it with no ageing or disease. Obviously death would be taken out of the equation because, what would be the point? Murder would obviously be made impossible as would any other activity that would make the point of prolonging life impossible.
Death could still be a part of the simulation, just so that you don't get bored living for 600,000 years in the same world.

You could live a continuous succession of 80-year lives, and in each you will be given a different starting point (born in different countries, to parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds). Or, different lives could even take place in totally different worlds, each very different from our current world.

After each "life", you would return to the main game console and choose your next life.

As I said, this would be more interesting than an eternity being the same person in the same world.


Quote:
We would still eat and have sex, but there would be little reason to work, because food would just be a computer simulation, and the only thing that would be needed would be power, which could come from the sun. There would be no work, or construction or anything else that we are familiar with.
I don't see why this has to be so. If, during your "life", you are unaware that you are in a simulation, then why shouldn't there be any food. You don't know you don't need to eat, so the world can be set up such that we occasionally get hungry and have to eat.

Similarly, if our brains/consciousnesses have evolved to be bored by sitting around forever and doing no work, the world could be set up such that you have to get a job.

Of course, for fun, it would be interesting to live some "lives" in a world where you don't have to eat or work, just to see how that feels.


Quote:
Or would there? Would we need to have these things for life to seem normal? Would we need to be reincarned and live lives where we had to work and eventually "die" only to start the process over again?

Maybe you could choose different realities? You could choose the Utopian world, or maybe the realistic world, where you have to work and earn your happiness?

It would be interesting, with so much time. Would you like to experience life as a Peruvian farmer? Maybe as a Roman subject? Maybe as a stone-age tribesman? Maybe you'd like to live as an America Indian? If you were to choose, how conscious of your original life would you like to be?
Hmmm, now that I read this, I see that you have touched on some of the things I mentioned above.

In any case, I think another possibility I find interesting is uploading your consciousness into a computer, but continue to live in this world by putting the computer inside a robot.

This way you can experience life without disease and pain, and still live and enjoy the world as you know it.

Of course you could still "die" if the robot is destroyed in an accident (but then again you could make up-to-the-minute "back ups", so that if the robot is destroyed, you can boot up your consciousness from the back up and start living again in a new robot body)

Finally, returning to the simulated world scenario, I was always intrigued by the fact that, just as dreams last only a few seconds but seem to last a long time, it is possible that in the simulated world, you could experience 70 years worth of life in 1 week. So, we could experience multiple lifetimes in a simulated world, even if we don't upload our consciousness and even if we don't live forever in the real world, just by hooking up to a simulated world with our meat brains.
#10
Old 11-30-2004, 05:18 PM
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Another question is this....

if you were to choose to live a new life, how much of your memories woudl you take with you? If I am not mistaken, and I know very little about this. Your brain stores information in the forms of connections between neurons, right? Well, what should be done? Should you have your memory erased? You wouldn't really be the same person then, now would you? If your simulated body in the new world was telling your brain that it was a child, then it would obviously react differently if you didn't already know everything. But then... what would be the fun of it if you were never conscious of the fact? If you could never look back one day and have had some benefit of having gone through all of those lives? But it wouldn't really be a true life if you came in with an adult brain.

But myself? I think I'd start off in a really simple world, as close to reality as possible, so I would adjust easily.

But here's a question.... What, exactly would be your offspring? This is a tricky question. There probably wouldn't be enough space for 600,000 years of human beings to live. Sure, you could have a child with another uploaded person and the computer could simulate his brain, and I guess, it technically would be as much of a person as you would be. And actually most people have a desire to have childern in their lives, for various reasons. How could you get around that? You could have the reincarned standing in as people, but then it would be much different because they would either have to have their brains changed completely, or they would have to abide by some other set of rules.


At what point do these things matter?

If I were to die and preserve my brain. What would happen when I awake. Obviously life is an unending period of living until you die. What happens when I die. If someone were to revive my preserved brain 10,000 years in the future, what exactly would that mean? Would I wake up as if from a long sleep? or would what I percieve to be "me" simply disappear?

What about the religious people? How would you consider preserving your brain after you die? Would it be a good backup plan? Would it violate any kind of religious ethics?
#11
Old 11-30-2004, 05:32 PM
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You really should read Permutation City; trust me, you'll love it.

In a sense, what I currently consider to be 'me' is a different person to what I considered to be 'me', say, twenty years ago; I have different views, tastes, desires, emotions, reactions, goals, reflexes, hopes, fears, ambitions, experiences and memories - a big chunk of what I was back then is already dead; much of what I am now has been born since.

Arguably, the person I was yesterday died when I went to sleep and I awoke an entirely new person with nothing more than the utterly compelling illusion that there has been some continuity of concrete identity; maybe it could even be argued that each successive waking brain-state represents a different person who merely thinks it was he that was here five milliseconds ago.
#12
Old 11-30-2004, 05:53 PM
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Dude, I was totally gonna mention Permutation City! Great book.

I think that in any of these scenarios, I'd want my memories to be erased enough so that I forgot that I died and that I wasn't living in the "real" world. Would it really be pleasant to live in a world you know is fake? I can't see how it would be. I can't see how anyone could have respect for other life, if they knew going into it that the other people around them were really just lines of code? You'd have a society full of unempathic psychos who "kill" each other every second just because they know it's not real. It would be like Grand Theft Auto for real.

I would put my consciousness into a robot that functioned in the tangible world, though. That would be an interesting experiment.

Ultimately I think people's brains are designed to deal with a certain amount of stress and conflict, and a world without those things wouldn't be very pleasant at all. Happiness means nothing if there's not unhappiness to balance it out. Peace doesn't mean anything if there's not the possibility of war. That's why I'm wary of any "paradise" scheme; things could be a lot better than they are right now but we're not designed for perfection.
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#13
Old 11-30-2004, 05:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Merkwurdigliebe
if you were to choose to live a new life, how much of your memories woudl you take with you? If I am not mistaken, and I know very little about this. Your brain stores information in the forms of connections between neurons, right? Well, what should be done? Should you have your memory erased?
No need for that. During some dreams we feel that we are someone else, and all our "true-self" memories don't surface during the dream. They are somehow suppressed. But when you wake up, you still have your memories, so they don't have to be erased for you to not be able to access them during a dream or simulation.

Quote:
You wouldn't really be the same person then, now would you? If your simulated body in the new world was telling your brain that it was a child, then it would obviously react differently if you didn't already know everything. But then... what would be the fun of it if you were never conscious of the fact? If you could never look back one day and have had some benefit of having gone through all of those lives?
Many dreams are fun even though we aren't "us" in them, and even though we don't have the benefit of knowing that we are in a dream and have gone through many dreams before.

So, the same could be true of simulated worlds.
#14
Old 11-30-2004, 06:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by continuity eror
I think that in any of these scenarios, I'd want my memories to be erased enough so that I forgot that I died and that I wasn't living in the "real" world. Would it really be pleasant to live in a world you know is fake? I can't see how it would be. I can't see how anyone could have respect for other life, if they knew going into it that the other people around them were really just lines of code?
But not everyone would be just lines of code. Many of the inhabitants of this world would be the consciousnesses of real people, and if you "kill" them you cause them pain. And pain is pain, no matter if it is felt in a simulation.


Quote:
Happiness means nothing if there's not unhappiness to balance it out.
We actually don't know this for sure. Is there anyone who was continually happy and said "I've had enough, bring on some unhappiness"?
#15
Old 11-30-2004, 06:14 PM
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Another good book (fiction) on this topic is Deux X by Norman Spinrad.
#16
Old 11-30-2004, 09:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Polerius
But not everyone would be just lines of code. Many of the inhabitants of this world would be the consciousnesses of real people, and if you "kill" them you cause them pain. And pain is pain, no matter if it is felt in a simulation.
I thought that in the utopia world there wouldn't be any pain. Pain would definitely change things, but knowing that anyone you "killed" or hurt isn't really real would also. I think part of the reason people take pains to protect life is because we know this might be our (and others') only shot at life. If we knew we or they could come back, even if they did experience "pain," we wouldn't be as careful.


Quote:
We actually don't know this for sure. Is there anyone who was continually happy and said "I've had enough, bring on some unhappiness"?
Well, one could argue that any life that lacked unhappiness isn't experiencing the full range of human emotions. I wouldn't want to live in any world that prized happiness over truth/reality.
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#17
Old 12-01-2004, 12:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Merkwurdigliebe
But here's a question.... What, exactly would be your offspring? This is a tricky question. There probably wouldn't be enough space for 600,000 years of human beings to live. Sure, you could have a child with another uploaded person and the computer could simulate his brain, and I guess, it technically would be as much of a person as you would be. And actually most people have a desire to have childern in their lives, for various reasons. How could you get around that? You could have the reincarned standing in as people, but then it would be much different because they would either have to have their brains changed completely, or they would have to abide by some other set of rules.
Another Greg Egan book, Diaspora, also explores this. There can be a digital version of DNA, so people can have offspring. There is no limitation on the number of parents, since you can combine DNA from any number of people, or one person can clone himself or make an imperfect copy with random mutations. There was also an orphan in the book, who was created by the OS by random selection of various genes.

You can have simulacrums of historical people who've never had their minds encoded, based on biographical information. But they would be more like holodeck characters rather than full-fledged sentient beings.
#18
Old 12-01-2004, 01:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Merkwurdigliebe
But in the end. What would be the point of life? Would we get bored? What would you possibly do with 60,000 years of free time that required no work to do? We would still eat and have sex, but there would be little reason to work, because food would just be a computer simulation, and the only thing that would be needed would be power, which could come from the sun. There would be no work, or construction or anything else that we are familiar with.
This is actually the major theme of Diaspora. What do humans do after they've conquered all physical needs? Some just get bored and depressed and kill themselves. Others get bored and depressed and put themselves in a permanent high. Some devote themselves to some life-long pursuit, such as art, mathematics, physics, the search for aliens, etc. Some enclose themselves in their own virtual world where they simulate whatever they want, and break off all contact with other people.
#19
Old 12-01-2004, 03:52 AM
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Another sci-fi shout out is Iain M. Banks' Culture series, where all of these 'uploading' options are available (in addition to "subliming" which involves becoming some kind of extra-dimensional God-like entity which for some reason takes almost no interest in our universe whatsoever).

The usual choice is a 'fulfilling' real life of a few centuries, perhaps dedicated to improving the plight of less civilised species (no Prime Directive here!), followed by uploading into a vastly powerful Mind comprising the memories and 'personalities' of trillions of others.


As Mange says: We are our memories. Every night I die, and every morning a new person is born having the same memories as that dead man.
#20
Old 12-01-2004, 04:36 AM
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Except that I don't really see why there's anything special about sleep that make the you of the past a dead man; I don't think it is any less valid (or indeed any more unfalsifiable) to say something like:

Every waking moment, I am created anew by the changing patterns of activity in my brain, at every waking moment, the new me inherits the memory of the me that died the moment before.
#21
Old 12-01-2004, 05:18 AM
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Yes, Mange, it is mere poetic license: "I" am a string of memories, and whenever that string bifurcates, neither branch is automatically "me".
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